Shale oil and gas: public enemy number 1
Over the past decade, Shale oil and gas production went through an historic boom, propelling the United States to the position of leading hydrocarbon producer and fifth largest gas exporter. By 2025, North America, primarily the United States, will account for 85% of global production growth.
If this trend was to go on till 2050, 27 to 31% of the carbon budget we have left to limit global warming to 1.5°C would be spent. Furthermore, the production of shale hydrocarbons will have a direct impact on the populations: as of today, they are already affected by risks of pollution of drinking water reserves and exposure to toxic compounds from this industry, as well as by increased seismic activity and competition for water. In addition to climate risks, this sector also represents a major financial risk: between 2010 and 2019, 34 shale oil and gas companies spent $189 billion more than they took in through sales. The recent crisis has demonstrated the sector’s fragility in the face of the market’s uncertainties.
LNG: the polluting engine of the gas boom
While industry likes to present Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a transitional energy, this is simply not true. UNEP’s Global Methane Assessment points out that the mere use of existing gas infrastructures already and greatly compromises our ability to keep global warming to 1.5°C; any plan to expand it and extend the use of natural gas would put us dangerously far from that goal. LNG is therefore an issue: between 2019 and 2020, investment in LNG terminals has more than doubled, to reach $200 billion. Moreover, the transformation and transport processes involved are energy-intensive and a source of methane leakage, so that over its entire life cycle, gas transported by LNG can emit up to 16% more CO2e than coal for electricity production.
Arctic: oil and gas companies don’t get cold feet
In the Arctic, the oil and gas industry are taking over the resources, as the ice melt makes them more easily accessible. If extracted, Arctic oil and gas alone would consume nearly a quarter of our carbon budget by 2050 (2). To date, more than half of these resources are already exploited or are concerned by development projects. In addition to the potentially uncontrollable and devastating consequences for its ecosystems in the event of an accident, it is our worldwide air-conditioning system that is at stake here. Indeed, the immense white expanse of the Arctic allows it to reflect most of the solar energy it receives, thus limiting the warming of the climate. The exploitation of hydrocarbons reduces the reflective power of the Arctic. This, in turn, favors the warming, the melting, and the reduction of this expanse and thus of its reflective power: hydrocarbon development in the Arctic accelerates a feedback loop that worsens global warming.
For all these reasons, it is urgent to react and sanctuarize the Arctic and its fragile ecosystems, as delimited by the AMAP, the working group of the Arctic Council whose mandate is to ensure the health and non-pollution of the Arctic.
Oil sands: a bleak picture
Oil sands do not contain oil, but bitumen, a heavier and more viscous form, difficult to extract and that requires very high temperature processing to be transformed into oil. To achieve this, the equivalent of 24% to 77% of the final oil’s energy is consumed, and the production of a barrel of oil emits an average of 3 times more CO2 than other methods. Oil produced from tar sands is the least efficient and most polluting source of energy.
Also, this method of extraction is a very destructive one for the environment: In Canada, 140 000 km² of virgin boreal forest (the equivalent of Florida) and the ecosystems it contains are thereby endangered. The exploitation of this resource is also very polluting and has already generated more than a thousand billion liters of toxic and carcinogenic waste, contaminating the surrounding populations and ecosystems. Despite the drop in oil prices concomitant with the health crisis, the oil sands are still going strong, and a 30% growth of the sector is expected by 2030, amplifying all the negative externalities of the exploitation of this resource.
Ultra-deep offshore: we are hitting rock bottom
Oil and gas are sought deeper and deeper in the oceans and it comes with higher and higher chances of malfunctions. Ultra-deep offshore, with a water depth of over 1500 meters, is a hostile environment: mud volcanoes, landslides or collapses, pressurized gas and water pockets are some of the risks involved in drilling and operating a deepwater well. Bad weather also threatens above-ground facilities, as hurricanes Ike, Rita and Katrina proved, causing millions of liters of oil to be spilled into the oceans. As the industry stated at the time, « there was no way [they] could have foreseen or prepared for the environmental mess ». The oil spill incidents that have occurred since that time have proven our blatant inefficiency in reacting to this type of event, and the consequences that they can have on the environment and the socio-economic fabric. Even in the absence of accidents, this industry remains harmful to marine biodiversity. Seismic surveying methods damage the health and reproductive capacity of underwater species, and have been implicated in whales stranding events.
Moreover, financial players of this sector must be aware of the risks involved: with operational costs reaching one million euros per day for an exploration vessel, and more than a hundred million dollars for the drilling of a well, this sector is a particularly capital-intensive and risky one.